Q: A few months ago, I got a job at a wonderful company. I admire the pleasant group of people with whom I work, people who would never consider hurting others under normal circumstances.
However, I have just discovered that every year, the members of my company go on a retreat where they are required to discuss what they really think about one other. I can't help but believe that this brand of honesty will hurt relationships in the long run, especially when the participants may not be genuinely interested in the others.
How can I handle this horrible situation and avoid hurting others or getting my feelings hurt? Maybe I'm different, but I hold grudges and know I would never feel the same about someone who pointed out my flaws publicly under the guise of doing me a favor.
A: Miss Manners is totally opposed to the activity you describe. It reminds her of the slumber parties of her youth, where one young girl would suggest, "Let's all say exactly what we really think of everyone else, and promise that nobody's feelings will be hurt," and 15 minutes later, the entire assemblage would be in tears.
Having one's flaws pointed out publicly would be a trial, even if there were agreement about what "flaws" are, and if one needed only to know them to be able to change them. Any seriously offensive practices on the part of an employee should be brought to his or her attention privately by a supervisor. But the notion that everyone can and should change to accommodate everyone else's "pet peeves" also presumes that there is no need to tolerate an acceptable range of human behavior.
If you cannot be excused from these sessions, Miss Manners suggests that you set a standard by stating only that which you find pleasant about the others. People have a way of believing that only unpleasantness is "honest," forgetting that appreciation can also be genuine.
Q: Our daughter-in-law prepared a beautiful meal for me, including a baked potato wrapped in foil. I took off the foil and cut up the potato. After removing the pulp while holding the peel in my fingers, I popped the peel into my mouth.
Well, I was sharply criticized by my daughter-in-law for bad manners. I did not think it was such a crime. Was I wrong to use my fingers? Should I have put the peel on the plate and cut it up? Please help this disgraced grandfather after the horrendous deed.
A: Eating potato peel with the fingers is only a misdemeanor. Bringing the potatoes to the dinner table wrapped in foil is a felony. Correcting one's father-in-law's table manners is a high crime.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.